ThinkMovies – Quentin Tarantino's five best distractions for lockdown

ThinkMovies – Quentin Tarantino's five best distractions for lockdown

by Alan Grant
article from Saturday 23, May, 2020

LIKE ANY male movie geek who grew up on a steady diet of movies he was far too young to see, I have a real soft spot, and perhaps a blindspot, for one Quentin Tarantino. 

While his guilt by association sideshow trial during the Harvey Weinstein main event may have tarnished his public perception, there is little doubt that ‘QT’ remains not only one of the finest filmmakers of his generation, possibly ever, but that he is uniquely influential over today’s cinephiles. 

Therefore, since Think Scotland has asked me to pick a director and reduce their life’s work to one of these lists it seems silly to do anything other than start pretty much at the top and bring you the five best movies of this illustrious man’s career.

Besides, trying to do this for Martin Scorsese, Stanley Kubrick, or Alfred Hitchcock would require a level of discretion that is beyond your humble film scribe at this stage of lockdown. 

In terms of the list rules that have become customary, there’s really just one big one. 

For the Tarantino list, only films that have been written and directed by the man himself count as “Tarantino Films” – he’s best known as a writer and director, and it’s my list, so that’s those are the rules. This means that, while they’re very good, Natural Born KillersTrue Romance, and Grindhouse: Planet Terror won’t be featured here. 

Also, as always, there is no real ranking the chosen movies in order because you can’t make me choose between the cinematic parents who raised me. 

So, grab yourself the rest of your five-dollar shake, finish that Big Kahuna Burger, spark up a Red Apple, and enjoy...

Reservoir Dogs

To echo the sentiments of YouTuber Adam Blampied, if you’ve never been a teenage boy, I can’t adequately explain to you the impact that being that age and seeing Reservoir Dogs for the first time. 

Set in the aftermath of a botched robbery, we follow Tarantino’s gang of iconic black-suited thieves as they attempt to piece together what happened and find a way out of their predicament. Most of the action takes place a warehouse with the other story threads brought together using flashback sequences and dialogue. It’s difficult to know how to classify what kind of film Reservoir Dogs is, it’s part comedy certainly but it has elements of mystery and is a solid crime movie too. To be honest, the most useful classification for it is that it is a Tarantino film.

Critics and film academics have poured over what this 1992, “greatest independent film of all time”, according to Empire, does to earn its reputation and adulation among film nerds. Some point to the aesthetic, some to the pacing, some the script, and others to QT’s mould-shattering use of on-screen violence. Hell, even the soundtrack (K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the 70s, look it up!) is a good place to argue for its greatness.

However, to me there’s something deeper and more fundamental to Reservoir Dogs that makes it wonderful – it’s a solidly masculine masterpiece. There are no women in the main cast, which revolves around Harvey Keitel’s Mr White, Michael Madsen’s Mr Blonde, Tim Roth’s Mr Orange, and father and son crime bosses Joe and “Nice Guy” Eddie Cabot, played by Lawrence Tierney and Chris Penn. Steve Buscemi’s slippery Mr Pink rounds out the gang of hard men and we’re all set for this machismo-fuelled, masculine, all-man powerhouse of a film that is unapologetic about it. In today’s movie landscape, that seems to always be willing to sacrifice quality and impact for equality and inclusion, the wrong way to go about creating art, diving back into Reservoir Dogs feels like sipping from a can of old recipe Irn-Bru; banned, illicit, looked down upon on, and absolutely totally delicious and worth it. 

Pulp Fiction

To have one culture-shaping film, like Reservoir Dogs, in your filmography is an achievement that one could dine out on in perpetuity but that was, evidently, not what QT had in mind because, a mere two years later, he smashed back onto screens with 1994’s Pulp Fiction.

Best described as an out-of-order story of petty criminals and their crimes, it’s difficult to describe the plot of Pulp Fiction to anyone who has not seen it. There’s a double-cross involving Bruce Willis’ aging boxer and Ving Rhames’ gangster boss, a robbery at a diner spearheaded by Tim Roth’s Ringo, and, of course, the trials and tribulations of John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson as a pair of mob enforcers wearing suspiciously similar black suits. 

Like Reservoir Dogs, the great stuff about Pulp Fiction has been poured over by people with a greater understanding of cinematography and filmmaking than I for nearly 25 years so there’s a lot of good analysis out there for your consideration. In particular, I recommend going down the online rabbit hole that discusses what’s in the briefcase that features as the movie’s big plot MacGuffin… just don’t expect to get to the bottom of it quickly, or at all. 

However, if I had to pick just one thing to extoll about Pulp Fiction it would be that it explores relationships better than any other movie that I can think of. We are totally immersed in the backstory and lore behind Butch and Wallace, Vincent and Jules’ relationship matters to us, and we care deeply about whether or not Ringo and Yolanda, the diner robbers, are going to be ok. The success of this is down to one of QT’s most vaunted skills, he’s a gifted dialogue writer and Pulp Fiction is his dialogue on its best day yet.

You know how we’ve all had that conversation with someone who says, “you need to see this film!”, well… you need to see this film, if you’ve not seen it!

Inglorious Basterds 

Quentin Tarantino versus the Nazis is the premise that none of us really knew we wanted until we heard of it; then, phew boy! 

Releasing in 2009, the movie that became known as simply Inglorious in the more squeamish parts of the world tells the story of two rival plots to kill the German Nazi leadership during WW2. Throughout the film we area treated to spending time in the company of Shosanna Dreyfus’ French Jewish cinema owner as she gets involved in one plot while following Brad Pitt and his team of Jewish American Nazi hunters as they take on the ass-kicking duties. Interestingly, Tarantino struggled to complete this story, preferring to leave it until he had finished another couple of films (to which we may return) during the writing process. The film is, in my view, better for it and carries the mark of a more mature and reflective QT that enhances the movie’s impactful ending. 

What earns Inglorious Basterds  a place on this list isn’t necessarily how it is made, although the genius of QT is evident throughout as is the skills of the awesome cast (especially Christoph Waltz as SS-Standartenführer Hans Landa whose every line is like someone slipping a finger in without being asked to), but that it represents another aspect of Tarantino at his best. 

While some filmmakers are subtle and merely dip their toe in controversial topics, our Quentin jumps in his car and ramps off them like a show rider. However, what makes his act so compelling is that he sticks the landing. Whether we’re talking about racism, the Nazis, slavery, or any other taboo topic, the QT stunt is enjoyable because, against our better judgement, he lands it every time and Inglorious Basterds is his strongest landing. 

The Hateful Eight

What happens when you take “a bunch of nefarious guys” and trap them together “in a room with a blizzard outside”? Well, if you’re QT, you get The Hateful Eight. It’s a remarkable exercise in premise simplicity told through setting, character work, sleight of hand, and clever structure that absolutely belongs in any movie buff’s collection. 

As with all QT movies, the dialogue sparkles and both Sam Jackson and Tim Roth are brilliant in their roles, as is the rest of the surprisingly varied cast. 

There are two reasons that I particularly like this Cluedo-meets-Buckaroo tale of a woman sentenced to death and gangsterism set against a Civil War backdrop; it is both an underrated QT movie and is an example that no matter what genre he turns his hand to, our man in the chair can make a success out of it because his films are made of very good fundamentals. 

This is not the first time the subject of Tarantino’s best flicks has come up in my life, in fact, with fellow movie geeks it comes up as often as you would expect and I am the only one I know who always has this on his list. Call it a sense of hipsterism, call it being unnecessarily contrarian, maybe even call it just being a pretentious wanker (any and all of that may well be true) but the lack of love that The Hateful Eight  receives makes me love it just that little bit more. 

However, on slightly more solid ground, in The Hateful Eight we find a gifted writer and director taking a genre that few would have thought suited him and fewer would have thought would still draw audiences in 2015 and absolutely nailing it. It’s every bit as much a Western as it is a QT movie and is every bit the peanut butter and chocolate combination that it sounds like and, goddamn, does it work! 

Honestly, if there’s one movie that I recommend most out of all of these great flicks, especially if you have seen the other more well-loved ones, it’s The Hateful Eight. It’s three hours of sheer spur-jangling, sarsaparilla-slugging, straight-shootin’ bliss!

Kill Bill Vol.1 

…and so we come to the big one! The movie that made yours truly a Tarantino fan in the first place.

QT’s story of the ultimate jilted bride making her way through a kill list of her former friends was the very first of his movies I ever saw and I still remember that physical feeling that something had changed in how I viewed cinemas. Previously, they had been a distraction or just for entertainment, now, thanks to this high-octane thrill-ride, they were art to be enjoyed, felt, consumed, and analysed for the rest of my life. There is a clutch of movies that have gone towards me churning out thousands of words every month about cinema and Kill Bill Vol.1 is absolutely one of them. 

Everything, and I mean everything, about Kill Bill Vol.1 is perfect. The casting is bang on, premise is immediately intriguing, QT’s use of flashback and music is perfect, every note, ever beat, every laugh, and every thrill is absolutely perfect and a picture painted to be enjoyed. The sequel, Vol.2, is also a great movie but nothing can really compare to the first outing of Uma Thurman’s Bride, Lucy Liu’s O-Ren Ishii, David Carradine’s Bill, and Daryl Hannah’s Elle Driver – it’s truly a magical experience.

*****

So there we have it, the five best movies written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. Truthfully, pretty much everything he’s ever been involved in is well worth a watch and most of this list, as with most of these lists, is not informed by anything objective – this is just one fan’s opinion because that’s what I am, a fan. QT’s movies correspond to particular times, and with particular people, in my life that mean a lot to me and I go back to them every time.

On the subject of this bloody lockdown! Remember, there’s probably more gone by than we’ve got to go so stick together and remember to be there for each other. If you need a pal, reach me on Twitter@alangrantuk

Until next time.
All the love,
Alan

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